7 Tips for Parents Whose Grade-School Child is in Stuttering Therapy
May 3, 2022
Margaret Miller, M.A., CCC-SLP
Parents often ask us how they can help when their child is in therapy. Parents are vital allies in stuttering therapy, and they can make a huge difference in their child becoming a confident, successful communicator. Below are some of our top tips for parents who are receiving stuttering therapy with us.
1. Create a safe stuttering zone in your home.
The number one thing you can do for your child is to make sure that home is a place they will always be listened to, and never judged for stuttering. Make sure all adults in the household are on board and working to combat any of their own prejudices about stuttering (see step 2). Shut down any sibling teasing immediately. If younger children ask about stuttering, it’s OK to talk about it. You might say, “stuttering is when it takes someone a little longer to say what they want to say. We can help by waiting until they are finished.”
2. Work to develop your own stuttering acceptance.
It’s okay to have some mixed or negative feelings about stuttering. But kids pick up on their parents’ emotions, so you can help by becoming very comfortable with the look and sound of people stuttering. Add a podcast like StutterTalk, Proud Stutter, or the Stuttering Foundation Podcast to your rotation. Watch some of our videos. Meet other people who stutter or parents of people who stutter at group events.
Building your own comfort is especially important if your child has been working hard to hide stuttering. As they become more open with their speech, they may talk more and also show more stuttering. It will help if their main audience (you) is ready to welcome that new vulnerability with open arms.
3. Talk openly about stuttering.
“My parents never talked about my stuttering, so I assumed that meant it was really, really bad.” This is the message we hear from many adult clients whose well-meaning parents never mentioned stuttering because they thought that would make it worse. There is no evidence that open discussion of stuttering is harmful. In fact, it may reduce shame and promote acceptance.
4. Let your child manage their own speech.
Your speech therapist will be working with your child on managing their stuttering. Key to this process is teaching the child to identify the moment of stuttering as it happens. In other words, we want the child to be their own speech therapist! Sometimes this may mean using stuttering modification strategies, while other times your child’s goal may be something like letting a stutter come out without shame, or maintaining eye contact. So, while comments like “slow down” or “take a breath” may seem helpful, they can actually be harmful to the process. Just as you stopped holding your child’s hand when they learned to walk, you can now give them control over how they talk, and focus on enjoying the conversation.
5. Support, but don’t force, your child when completing desensitization challenges.
As part of treatment, your therapist may recommend desensitization challenges, such as ordering one’s own food at a restaurant or stuttering on purpose with friends and family. In order for desensitization to work, it’s important not to push too fast. With every challenge, it’s okay for your child to decide they’re not ready! So, what should you do if your child has a challenge for homework and they express nervousness or doubt? Try validating their feeling: “That does sound scary! You get to decide.” You might also add your support: “Is there anything I could do to make it easier?” And try specific praise if they follow through: “That took a lot of bravery” instead of “nice job.”
6. Build a growth mindset.
Create a culture of growth in your home by modeling resilience and tolerance for difficulty. Demonstrate grace and learning when you make a mistake. Encourage both your child and yourself to have fun trying things that don’t come easily. Praise effort, not results.
7. Help your child meet others who stutter.
Many adults who stutter tell us the best thing they ever did was to meet other people who stutter. Opportunities for kids include FRIENDS virtual groups, National Stuttering Association groups, and summer camps for kids who stutter such as Camp Say. Your speech therapist may also recommend events or small group sessions for several clients. You can help by supporting your child in finding and attending these events!
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, and Los Angeles, CA, and services are also available online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.